The 2009 Tigers finished 9 games over .500 and tied for first place. That’s the good news. The bad news is Detroit lost a one-game playoff to the Twins. What’s worse, the Tigers were lucky to get that far. Detroit won 86 games despite giving up more runs than they scored. That’s not likely to happen again.
This offseason, motivated by a desire to shed payroll, the Tigers parted ways with several of their top players. They traded Edwin Jackson to the Diamondbacks. They sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees. They declined to offer arbitration to Placido Polanco, Brandon Lyon, and Fernando Rodney, and all departed via free agency.
So far, the Tigers have signed one free agent of note: closer Jose Valverde. They also acquired some talented young players in the aforementioned trades.
Detroit landed RHP Max Scherzer, LHP Daniel Schlereth, LHP Phil Coke, and OF Austin Jackson.
Coke and Schlereth are hard-throwing middle relievers and neither figures to make a huge splash, though both should make the opening day roster. Scherzer is a starter who misses bats and has the potential to be an ace, if he can stay healthy (though most scouts doubt that he will). Meanwhile, Austin Jackson should be a serviceable replacement for Granderson. Here’s what ESPN’s Kieth Law had to say about Jackson:
Jackson is a good-but-not-great athlete. He’s an above-average runner, but not a burner; he’s wiry, but the power that has been projected has yet to materialize. His game played up in the low minors because he controlled the strike zone well for a young, inexperienced hitter. His plate discipline has gotten worse as he’s risen the ladder, and he may need a few years in the majors before he’ll post acceptable OBPs. But he can handle center field defensively and should produce enough at the plate to be an asset even in 2010, during which he’d earn the minimum salary.
What else do the Tigers need?
Detroit’s pitching was pretty woeful in 2009 (just look at the Tigers’ FIP, which was the third-highest in the AL). The team’s ERA was greatly bolstered by excellent team defense. Scherzer has the potential to improve the team’s staff all by himself in 2010. But the big difference-maker could be Jeremy Bonderman, who has struggled with injuries the past few seasons but could be a number 3 starter if healthy. Bonderman walks a few too many batters, but he’s also capable of racking up strikeouts.
A rotation fronted by Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Scherzer and a healthy Bonderman would be an admirable staff, and could help the Tigers keep pace in 2010. A little of the luck they enjoyed in 2009 wouldn’t hurt either.